FC Lokomotiv Moskva have hardly stormed into the new Russian Premier-Liga season but defender Malkhaz Asatiani is simply glad to be up and running again.
The 28-year-old Georgian international is enjoyed a fresh start with the Moscow outfit after a difficult spell under coach Rashid Rakhimov between December 2007 and April 2009. Marginalised from the Lokomotiv side and losing his national-team place as a result, Asatiani chose to join FC Dynamo Kyiv on loan – linking up with former Loko coach Yuri Semin and winning the 2008/09 Ukrainian title in the process.
However, when Semin quit Kiev last summer to rejoin the Railway Men, the centre-back needed no persuading to return to his parent club. "Rakhimov did not like me," Asatiani, who first moved to the Russian capital in 2003, explained to UEFA.com. "I couldn't change his mind and was left with two options: sit on the bench or leave. I subsequently had some memorable months with Dynamo, but once the situation changed I returned to Loko because this club is my second home."
Although Loko, sixth in the table after eight games, have yet to recapture the form that earned them a second Russian title in 2004, their ex FC Torpedo Kutaisi player is optimistic about their prospects. "We haven't got as many points as we'd have liked, but we have played the top teams already. We are slightly disappointed with the results but nothing is lost. We will keep fighting."
The 35-times international expects Georgia to show a similarly combative streak once UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying begins. Edged out of the national-team picture under coach Héctor Cúper, Asatiani has come back into contention since Temuri Ketsbaia's November appointment.
Sooner or later, he reckons, a side featuring the talents of Kakha Kaladze, Levan Kobiashvili, Aleksandr Iashvili, Levan Kenia, Zurab Khizanishvili and Vladimer Dvalishvili will show their class. "If I knew why we have underperformed, everything would be different," he said. "But we must continue trying and hope results improve."
The arrival of Ketsbaia certainly augurs well for Asatiani, who figured in a 2-1 friendly win against Estonia in March. "I played alongside Temuri," he added. "He was great player, an inspiration. He always fought till the end. The results he had at Anorthosis Famagusta in Cyprus were no accident, so hopefully he will bring success to Georgia too."
For all the ability of emerging stars such as Jano Ananidze, Levan Kenia and Levan Mchedlidze, Asatiani intends to continue serving his country. And despite speculation about a possible return to Georgia, where his old team – now FC Torpedo-2008 – have just been promoted back to the top flight, he remains focused on Lokomotiv. "I want to play for many years yet," he said. "I will know when and where to stop. It could be at Lokomotiv, in Kutaisi or elsewhere, but I am delighted for Torpedo – I will always support the team that launched my career."